Today's guest blogger, Dirck Byler, is a Program Officer for the Great Ape Conservation Fund with the Service's International Affairs office in Arlington, Virginia. Today, he shares a story about his recent trip to Cameroon.
In February, I was in Cameroon to meet with students attending the Garoua Wildlife College, a regional institution supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The College trains young professionals from French-speaking Africa in wildlife management.
Communities in northern Cameroon surrounding Bouba Ndjida National Park. Photo: Dirck Byler/USFWS
While in Cameroon, reports filled my inbox on the slaughter of as many as 500 elephants in Bouba Ndjida National Park. However, the facts of these reports were disputed. Little detail was available on what interventions, if any, were being made to prevent further poaching.
At the time, few conservationists outside of Cameroon had visited the park to document the situation. It became evident that a visit to the site was needed to get more information, increase awareness of the crisis, and learn what more could be done.
Bouba Ndjida National Park is one of only a handful of savanna parks in Northern Cameroon that harbor populations of elephants and other spectacular wildlife.
Forest elephants are in decline and some consumers prefer forest elephant ivory. Photo: Richard Ruggiero/USFWS
Thanks to the folks at Garoua Wildlife College, a vehicle was mobilized and after a 5 hour drive – mainly over dirt roads – I entered the park.
At headquarters, the park guard informed me that 150 elephants were confirmed dead. This count, however, likely missed large numbers of elephants unseen by park staff operating on foot. I joined a small team to document an elephant killing that had occurred only 2 miles from the park headquarters.
It became apparent we were close to the kill from the stench of the elephants’ rotting carcasses. The scene was devastating: four adult elephants slaughtered, their faces and tusks hacked off, and their bodies left to rot in the 100 plus degree heat. In other cases around the park, entire elephant families were slaughtered. Even elephant calves were not spared, the poachers taking their tiny tusks to make any profits they could.
A team of conservationists survey the poaching crisis in Bouba Ndjida in Cameroon. Photo: Dirck Byler/USFWS
According to observers on the ground, this was the work of a highly organized group of 30 to 40 poachers from outside the country. Local communities surrounding the park were reportedly trading with the poachers.
An emergency response is now underway, with the Cameroon government mounting a military response to remove the poachers from the park. In the meantime, we will continue to explore options to assist the government of Cameroon and its partner non-governmental organizations to conserve these globally important wildlife populations.
For more images from Dirck’s trip, go to the Bouba Njiida Elephant Slaughter set on Flickr. (WARNING: Graphic Images)
For images of elephants visit the Wildlife Without Borders – African Elephants set on Flickr.